Chapter Two: Road Trip
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Sherlock Holmes sits with his palms flat on the table in the precinct conference room, Watson perched cross-legged on the chair beside him. Her nervous energy makes him more jittery than he already is, as if some electric current connects them.
The room is dark and dreary even in the middle of the day when light from distant windows manages to leak in. In the middle of the night when it is lit solely by flickering fluorescent bulbs, it takes on an unreal quality, like the set of a cheaply made B-movie. At one end of the table Mycroft sits, still dapper in his white jacket and dark blue trousers. Both Detective Bell and Captain Gregson look weary, the captain suffering from a cold.
"You realize how this looks," Captain Gregson says. Mycroft nods in agreement. "A whole restaurant full of witnesses saw you having an altercation with a food critic who later turns up dead. A critic, I might add, whose negative review was posted online shortly after leaving your restaurant and a few hours before his body was found in the bushes on the High Line."
"Ballistics says he was killed with a .22 caliber semi-automatic," Detective Bell adds. "An easy enough gun to get without a license."
"I abhor gun ownership," Mycroft says swiftly. "You Americans have an unhealthy obsession with firearms. I do not own and never would buy a gun, much less use one."
"I've heard that one before," Bell says. Turning to Holmes, he says, "Sorry, but your brother is our lead suspect."
"I agree," Holmes says. At his side, Watson twitches. "Circumstantial evidence seems to implicate Mycroft. If I didn't know him personally, I might be tempted to find it compelling."
He hears Watson's chair creak as she leans forward. "The food critic. John DeRossi? You knew him?"
Mycroft nods in her direction.
"I met him a week ago when he came to dinner. Most food critics never publish their likenesses in the press and use assumed names when they dine out. Not DeRossi. His food blog is the most widely read one in New York and he has a photo of himself on his website. I recognized him at once."
"Did anything unusual happen at that meal?" Holmes asks, and Mycroft nods again.
"He asked to speak to Travis and they went outside for a few minutes. Through the door I saw them in a heated discussion. When Travis came back in, DeRossi followed him, yelling. I intervened and told him he was no longer welcome to eat here."
"The argument," Watson says. "Do you know what it was about?"
"Travis offered no details," Mycroft says, "and I didn't ask. Not my place to, really."
Detective Bell cuts his eyes at Captain Gregson, obviously communicating something. "Did you see him any other time?" he asks. Mycroft shakes his head.
"Not until tonight. I have no idea how he got in. The opening was invitation only, and he was not on the guest list."
Captain Gregson picks up a piece of paper from the table and hands it to Mycroft.
"You've seen this? The review? It was posted on John DeRossi's webpage at 10:04 last night. Seems he didn't care for the food."
"He's entitled to his opinion," Mycroft says evenly, "but what I object to is his sophistry. The reasons he cites for his dislikes are misinformed at best."
"What do you mean?" Watson says, and Mycroft hands her the paper.
"For example, he criticizes the strong flavor of the ham. It's Smithfield ham from Virginia, salt-cured for three years. It tastes nothing like mild Westphalian ham. Only an idiot would call the difference a fault."
"An influential idiot," Detective Bell says. "His review will cost you some business."
"Doubtless," Mycroft says, scowling.
"That doesn't mean Mycroft killed him," Watson says.
"Of course not," Holmes adds. "But it does suggest a motive."
"Why kill the reviewer after the review is posted," Watson says. "The damage is already done."
"Revenge," Holmes muses. "A fit of pique. A warning to other would-be reviewers."
Watson throws her hands up. "Whose side are you on?"
"There are no sides, Watson. I am attempting to get at the truth." Taking a deep breath, he turns to Captain Gregson.
"I suggest we interview Chef Wilkerson and see why he and John DeRossi had words last week. It was, after all, his menu that came under fire in the review. He has as much of a motive as my brother to commit murder."
"I don't believe it!" Mycroft exclaims. "Travis wouldn't hurt anyone."
"Yet he has a temper," Holmes says. Mycroft's face flushes slightly and Holmes hurries on. "I heard you both in the kitchen last night. Although I couldn't make out the words, the tone was clearly acrimonious."
From the corner of his eye he sees Watson react. She sits up straight and crosses her arms.
"It's true," she says. "I heard it, too."
Sighing deeply, Mycroft says, "We were arguing but it had nothing to do with DeRossi. I canceled a produce delivery that Travis had ordered and he was angry about it. Once he understood why I canceled it, he was fine."
"Why did you cancel it?" Captain Gregson asks, and Mycroft shrugs.
"The supplier doubled the price when he realized it was for our opening. I don't do business with gougers."
"Well," Captain Gregson says, gathering his notes and sitting back, "we don't have enough to charge you at this time. But don't think about leaving town anytime soon."
"You don't seriously think Mycroft is guilty?" Watson says. Her voice is tinged with the same incredulity Holmes feels.
If the captain is offended at her tone he doesn't show it.
"Not seriously," he says. Then turning to Mycroft he says, "But you better hope your brother here can help us find the real killer. Otherwise I have a feeling that bad review or not, your new restaurant isn't going to stay open long."
X X X
Later that morning at the brownstone, Mycroft and Sherlock sit on opposite ends of the sofa, looking more like grumpy bookends than brothers. Joan hands each one a cup of tea and retreats to the stuffed armchair next to the fireplace, lit now to fend off the chilly October weather.
"Darjeeling," Mycroft says, sipping his tea. "Tea bag, not brewed. Filtered water."
"Oh!" Joan says, unsure if his comments are criticisms or mere observations. Mycroft meets her eyes and says, "Thank you. It's lovely."
With an audible huff, Sherlock says, "Inferior grade leaves picked too soon because of last summer's drought in the Lesser Himalayas. Generic store brand. Hot water would taste better."
Joan has no trouble recognizing the criticism in Sherlock's comments. She rolls her eyes.
"So," she says loudly, and both men look at her. "We need a plan."
Again Sherlock purses his lips and blows a note of disapproval.
"The plan, Watson, is obvious. Chef Wilkerson is the first on our list of suspects to question. John DeRossi's neighbors are next."
"You think his murder might not have anything to do with the restaurant or the review? That he might have made one of his neighbors mad enough to kill him?" Watson asks. She's slightly abashed that she didn't think of that first, that the timing of his negative review and his death might have been mere coincidence.
"I have no idea," Sherlock says, "but if, as Mycroft maintains, Travis Wilkerson is unlikely to be our perpetrator, the possibility that one of his neighbors killed him increases. Or even a stranger. Mr. DeRossi lived near the 18th Street access stairs to the High Line. It wouldn't be hard for someone to lure him there and shoot him. That late at night it is mostly deserted, except for the odd tryst or surreptitious drug sale."
Turning to Mycroft, Sherlock says, "I'll also need a list of the guests who attended last night. And the contact information for your staff."
Tucking his hand into his inside jacket pocket, Mycroft pulls out a folded piece of paper and hands it to Sherlock.
"I anticipated that," he says. Joan sees Sherlock narrow his eyes at his brother.
Annoyed at Mycroft's foresight?
Shaking her head, Joan gets up and fetches her laptop from the dining room table. Reseating herself, she calls up the review and skims through it.
"This is the weirdest restaurant review I've ever seen," she says. DeRossi's review is a list of every item on the menu, listing not only his complaints about every dish but including the names of the suppliers of the ingredients with scathing commentary about them as well.
"How'd he even know who supplied the restaurant?" she asks, but even as she does she recalls the argument DeRossi had with the chef. "Could Travis have told him? Then when Travis found out that the review was going to be negative, they had words?"
Sherlock makes a familiar dismissive motion with his hand—something that she's used to but which embarrasses her now that he does it in front of Mycroft. She feels diminished somehow—or called out for making a blunder.
"Foolish speculation, Watson, and a waste of our time," he says. "You can do better. There's really only one question we need to answer right now, and that is…will our chef be more or less forthcoming if we take Mycroft with us when we question him?"
Stung by Sherlock's remark, Joan pipes up right away.
"We take him," she says, standing up and gifting Mycroft with a smile. From the corner of her eye she sees Sherlock frown. Good. He deserves a little payback.
Sherlock's irritation lasts all the way to Blossom. While Joan and Mycroft chat next to each other on the number 2 train, Sherlock sits on the other side of the aisle, his body angled away from them, the picture of sulk and peeve.
Because the restaurant doesn't open on Mondays until dinner, the only staff already there are a sous chef and Travis. Both are busy directing a delivery from a bakery but look up when Mycroft pushes open the door to the kitchen.
"We need to talk," Sherlock announces without preamble. Joan hears Mycroft sigh.
"If you don't mind," Joan hastens to add. "We have some questions about John DeRossi. You knew him personally?"
Travis Wilkerson is taller and bulkier than Sherlock, with thick dark hair pulled back in a short ponytail. Although he's wearing a white chef's jacket, Joan can see that his shoulders are broad, his arms powerfully built.
Following Sherlock's line of gaze, she sees him making the same observation.
Someone who could carry a body off the path of the High Line and hide it in the bushes?
"My brother informs me that you and Mr. DeRossi were engaged in a verbal altercation last week and he was asked to leave. What was the argument about?"
From behind Travis, the bakery deliveryman stands awkwardly holding a plastic crate of bread in his hands.
"Uh, where do you want this?"
The sous chef leads him to the storage room in the back of the kitchen and they disappear. Wiping his hands on his pants, Travis says, "Look, can we speak somewhere more private?"
Parting her lips to ask Mycroft if they can use his office, Joan sees Sherlock take a step forward.
"Not necessary," he says. "The question I've put to you is the only one I have."
That's a surprise. Or perhaps a lie. Joan crosses her arms like someone willing to wait all night for an answer. Rapidly blinking twice, Travis nods.
"Okay," he says. "We...knew...each other, okay? When I first came to New York, we dated for awhile, but then we went our separate ways. A few months ago John called me up for a drink, said he wanted to catch up. We met for drinks a couple of times, but then he said he was interested in picking back up where we left off. I told him no and he didn't take it too well. He showed up here later and we argued. That's it."
"That was a week ago," Joan points out. "Why did he come to the opening?"
"The first time we went out for drinks I told him about the restaurant and gave him an invitation. I figured he'd get one anyway—you know, because of his blog."
"Did he show you the review or tell you what was going to be in it?" Sherlock says, cutting his eyes at Joan. "Yes, I know that is another question and I promised only one, but this may be relevant to our investigation."
Travis ducks his head.
"No," he says, his eyes lowered. "But I knew he could be vindictive. It didn't surprise me when I read it."
Looking up, he blushes so hard that Joan is almost alarmed. His blood pressure must be borderline high right now.
"I didn't kill him," Travis says. "And I don't know who did."
At that moment the bakery deliveryman and the sous chef return from the storage room.
"You!" Holmes calls out. Both men stop in their tracks. "Delivery person. Do you know who John DeRossi is?"
"Uh, the guy who was killed last night? The food guy?"
"Come, Watson. We're wasting our time here." He turns and heads back through the restaurant.
"Wait, Sherlock!" Joan calls. "Are we going to talk to the neighbors?"
Halting so quickly that Joan almost plows into his back, Sherlock turns.
"Another waste of time," he says. "The odds are that the murderer killed John DeRossi in revenge for the negative review. Why someone seeking revenge and not, say, a neighbor angered by loud music or offensive cooking smells? Because the timing of the review and Mr. DeRossi's demise seems unlikely to be mere coincidence after all. Now, we know that Travis Wilkerson did not kill him—"
"How do we know that?"
"You heard him," Sherlock says. "He said that he had spurned DeRossi's advances and was not surprised when the review was negative. Furthermore, he admitted that he read it. A guilty person would lie and pretend ignorance, or he would hide the history of their relationship."
"Because what he told us makes him look guilty," Joan acknowledges. "Or at least like someone with a pretty good motive for murder."
"Exactly," Sherlock says. "He's too perfect a suspect to take seriously."
"You said we were going somewhere. You have another suspect in mind?"
Throughout the conversation Mycroft has stood by, listening. Now he speaks up.
"Not suspect," he says. "Suspects."
"Precisely," Sherlock says, rocking on his heels.
Joan feels a rush of irritation. Clearly both men know something that escapes her.
"So?" she says, letting her annoyance show. "Who are the suspects?"
"The delivery people," Sherlock says. "Or rather, the suppliers they work for."
Ah! Like feeling the tumblers in a lock finally fall into place, Joan understands.
"DeRossi's review calls out the suppliers by name," she says, grinning despite herself. "They stand to lose business, too."
"More than I do, in fact," Mycroft says. "Even though my suppliers are in the South, they have customers all over the country. A bad review like this one—"
With a jerk of his head, Sherlock interrupts.
"Right, yes. Watson, let's go."
"You still haven't told me where!"
"To Dixie," Sherlock calls back over his shoulder as he hurries to the door. "To the American South."
A/N: Hello there! Thanks to everyone who reads, and double thanks to everyone who reads and leaves a review. Your reviews give a little push to people who might be dithering about whether or not to give a fic a chance!
Thanks to StarTrekFanWriter who always gives good advice! Check out her stories in my faves.